If you’ve ever thought, What do I want to eat?, and then countered it with, What should I eat?, this post distinguishes the two!
This principle is a major one that comes into play when you think about deciding what to eat.
What Do I Want to Eat?
Sometimes, deciding what you want to eat, and thinking about what you should eat don’t align. And that’s okay.
We don’t have to eat our “shoulds” all the time.
Meaning, everything we put into our mouths doesn’t have to be 100% healthy or whole grain. Thinking this is an unhealthy way of looking at food.
Much of the discrepancy here is due to the food police, and how we are assigning these foods in our minds.
We may think one is “bad” and one is “good,” or one is good and the other is “better.”
Another determinant of our food choices is how hungry we really feel. I like to use the intuitive eating hunger scale with clients to determine this.
Learn to Challenge The Food Police
So, who is the food police?
The food police is the inner voice inside our heads. It’s normal. We have all experienced it at some time or another, and still probably do sometimes.
The food police voice is the one that tells us we don’t deserve dessert because we didn’t exercise today (which can lead to compulsive exercise).
Or, the voice that categorizes foods as “good” and “bad.”
The food police views our actions, or lack of actions, as willpower.
It bases our choices on what others may think of us, rather than satisfying ourselves.
The food police is everywhere. Your old teammate who thought she had to eat less meat to run faster.
Or, a coworker who declared she’s given up carbs for good because carbs make you gain fat (yes, all carbs she says…gasp!).
Even the trainer at the gym telling you to eat clean. These instances, whether people are trying to influence you or not, can play a role in our inner minds.
But, we don’t want to let them!
I was out to dinner on Saturday for wine and tapas night. I love wine and I love tapas because I can try a bunch of things.
But when I sat down to the menu, though I had previously planned on ordering tapas, I made a last minute decision that I was hungrier than two smaller tapas plates.
So I nixed the plan, and went with the steak. Because that’s what I wanted in the moment.
And honestly, the cocktail menu sounded too good to pass up, so I settled for two cocktails rather than two glasses of wine. I was very pleased with my choices.
Learning to Ignore Your Hunger
The food police can also show up and tell you not to eat because you ate an hour ago.
“You shouldn’t need to eat again, Sarah. You ate oatmeal for breakfast, and oatmeal is healthy. Wait until lunch.”
But, this goes against everything we want to do in building trust with our bodies. This tarnishes that trusting relationship.
Our body is giving us a sign to honor hunger, and we’re purposefully ignoring it.
Ask Yourself, What Do I Want To Eat?
Check in with yourself periodically and ask, “What do I want to eat right now?” If you’re on your way home from work, ask yourself, “what do I want to eat tonight?”
These questions are important to honor those cues.
What the food police doesn’t know is how your body operates and what you want. It’s just going to throw information at you, but won’t tell you how to utilize it.
The food police doesn’t know that you exercised for longer yesterday, or that you added an upper body workout in.
Maybe you ate half the size of dinner last night than you normally do.
No wonder you’re hungry. If you’re hungry, that’s a sign from your body for fuel. If You’re Hungry, eat!
What Food do I want to eat?
Do I want something crunchy? Sweet? Salty? Savory?
A snack or a full meal?
We all know whole grains are great and all, but sometimes you might just want white rice or white bread, or white dough pizza!
And the food police might tell you to never eat white anything because it will spike your blood sugar (this is wellness culture in disguise).
But if that’s what you want, then that’s what you should get. Pair it with protein for a complete meal because your body will feel better when you do that.
One food decision doesn’t matter…we make 16400 of them a day. The important thing is we learn to eat more of what makes us feel good for the long term.
One food decision doesn’t matter…we make 16400 of them a day. The important thing is we learn to eat more of what makes us feel good for the long term.Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN
In this post about intuitive eating and exercise, I talked about how it’s very important to tune in to your hunger cues, satiety cues and signals from your body.
What do you really want and what will make you feel good?
Sometimes you also have to use your brain a little bit, too, and turn up the mind knowledge part of nutrition.
For example, if you’re asking yourself, “What do I want to eat?,” the answer may be “nothing.”
You may not feel hungry at the moment, but you know you’ll be at an event without food in reach for 4 hours.
Therefore, you know that you should eat something as a form of self-care and to keep your energy stable throughout the event.
Remember, you are different from each and every person out there. What works for them won’t necessarily work for you.